In the late fifties, Oak Creek Canyon was the major route to Flagstaff from Phoenix. This was when Oak Creek was a fisherman’s paradise.
One weekend Dad loaded my Brother Rick and me in his 1959, Chevy Station Wagon. This was Dad’s sport utility vehicle and we had taken it everywhere. It did not have air conditioning, four wheel drive, or all terrain tires, but it did have a luggage rack.
Being the major truck route to Flagstaff made this little, winding highway fairly busy all night long. At that time there weren’t many campgrounds in the Canyon. Most fishermen would take their spot on the narrow pullout that were sized to fit two to three cars at a time. There were little trails along the roadway leading down to creek banks some thirty to fifty feet below. Most of the fishermen would spend the day at creek side and then head back to the town of Oak Creek to spend the night in a small, rented cabin. But with Dad’s SUV we could spend the night right there and be up as the sun rises to hit the creek for the best trout fishing of the day.
The sleeping arrangement for the three of us was easy. Dad and I would stretch out in the back of the wagon, while Rick would lie on the front seat. His four foot frame fit there just right.
Cooking was all done on the tail gate and the dining area was the closet larger boulder you could find. Dad would leave the camp gear out during the night and move it in the back of the car during the day. On this Friday night, we finished our bologna sandwich dinner complete with Clover Club Potato Chips, root beer and Coors beer to drink. Rick and I had the root beer.
Dad fired up the Coleman lantern to give us a little light to help get the camp kitchen was squared away and he would use it to throw a little heat in the car, with the window all cracked open, of course. We all stripped down to our skivvies and climbed into the sleeping bags. Dad was shutting down the lantern as it was hanging on the coat hook. We watched the bright mantel do its familiar dance in concert to the distinctive hissing sound of the pressurized gas. The light would go dim, then bright, and then dim again and then usually out. But this time, for some reason, on the last part of going dim it stopped generating vapor fuel and started running liquid fuel around it base supporting the glass globe. Then suddenly, on its last spurt, it burst into flames rather than going out. Dad’s quick action of flinging the side door open, grabbing the lantern by its wire hanger, and jumping out of the car all at the same instant. The situation was under control but there was Dad, standing in his underwear, hovering over the lantern trying to turn the gas off. What a sight that must have been for the truckers going by.
The next morning before breakfast, we would all head down to the creek fish. Early mornings and late afternoons is the best time for trout fishing. At that time the fishing limit was ten for Dad and Rick & I being under the licensing age, we could catch five each. After fishing a short while and catching a few fish, we would head back to the car for a simple breakfast. After breakfast, dad would drop Rick and I off at our favorite fishing hole while he would fish his way down the creek where he was hoping for a trophy fish with some size to it. He was confident that we knew the creek and could entertain ourselves for hours. We also were near a few cabins that were located creek side and there were some kids staying there that we would pal around with. We had a great time.
After a day fishing, Dad decided to take us to town for a hamburger with onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles served up with French fries and a Coke. After the feast, he took us roller skating. There was a rink right next to the little cafe. Rick and I would good at roller skating using the clamp on type that required the highly prized skate key. The skates at the roller rink were real ones mounted right on the boots. This made skating easy and Dad was impressed with our skills. It was Dad that surprised us. He started skating at a pretty good clip like he has been skating all his life. We were really impressed when he was skating backwards on his second lap around, that was until he ran over a slower skater. I guess he didn’t have eyes behind his head. He used to tell us that when we were younger. Nobody was hurt except Dad’s ego. We all hand a good time. The next morning we were fishing early again. Dad was going to take a walk upstream this time so he left us at our favorite pool. We had learned the catch and release procedure early in our fishing lives. If were didn’t eat the fish we caught the day before, we couldn’t fish anymore once we hit our limit. Most of the fish we released recovered.
Dad was away for about an hour. When he returned he found Rick and I off to the side of our pool. There were about six men that moved in on our spot when they saw us catching fish. This made Dad made so he told Rick to take his pole and cast his line Rick over the center of the pool, knowing well the he would tangle all there lines. Rick did not let Dad down. What a mess.
After Rick was untangled, Dad took us down the creek where there was less traffic. Rick and I were back to the catch and release procedure. We both were using some thirty year old level wind fishing reels mounted on steel fishing rods that were not very up to date, but effective. One fisherman came by all decked out in a fishing vest, creel, rubber boots and a brand new fly rod with an automatic Johnson fly reel. He wanted to trade his new rig for Rick on fishing pole, as he had not caught any fish at all. Rick didn’t go for the deal even though he knew it wasn’t the rig, it was the technique and placement that counted.
Late in the afternoon we were all fished out and had topped off our limits. We cleaned our latest catch, packed them in the ice chest and headed home. We knew that we could look forward to several good fish dinners. Mom would freeze our catch after each trip knowing that we ate our fair share that weekend.